The Third Consort

M. Cynthia Cheung | Poetry

Jane Seymour, the favorite (but only
after she died), married the king eleven days
from the day he beheaded
her predecessor. Imagine a bride

knowing that. It wasn’t rumor—
Jane’s craving for quails and her obsessions
with soft pearls, yellow yolks. If she’d been
any other man’s wife, stuffing
her cheeks would have been the single
most scandalous thing about her.
Did she even resent the poison tasters
taking an egg apiece?

Nobody wrote books about Jane, but
imagine they’d have her
saying she only believed in living
naturally, like keeping her skin milky,
or how she knew—without thinking—
how deep to curtsey. When Holbein arrived
to paint her portrait, she’d insist, Show them
no seams between my hands, or upon
my face—nothing but the jewels
of the king.

Perhaps it also seemed natural to wait
until she had sweated, pushed for two days,
and the servants had changed the bedding
a dozen times, to find that she had forgotten
what she was supposed to be doing,
her bowels spilling their contents
into her womb, and the midwives already
too busy. But Jane sat up when the king
arrived, awake enough to admit: A barking dog
always bites. Even then, her ladies couldn’t
tell whether she meant God, the newborn prince,
or her husband, who asked her
to please say it again.